It was a nice night. Cool, clear. They’d left Adenike at the inn and spent the evening hanging around the saloon with the locals. Hauzini had gotten some news about her family and Jesse had sent a letter to his aunt.
The leaving Adenike alone part was a mistake, as they were now discovering. The room was suspiciously quiet, considering that Adenike tended to snore very loudly when she slept.
“She’s gone and run away again, hasn’t she,” Jesse said miserably.
“Course she has,” Hauzini snapped. She shoved the door open, already prepared to find it empty.
As expected, Adenike wasn’t present. However, what was present was a gigantic mess. The table had been knocked over. Clothes lay strewn across the floor, soaking up water from the basin. A bullet sat, still smoking, in the wall.
They stared at the room, at the shattered window, and then at each other, mouths open.
“She didn’t run away,” Jesse said.
“No, no, she did not.”
They stared some more.
“Well,” Hauzini said slowly. “I mean. We should probably go rescue her.”
“We were hired to get her to Moravon. They’ll be pissed if their king dies.”
“And worse, we won’t get paid.”
They exchanged a look. For three years, they’d traveled together, taking bounties, all to get back their peaceful life on the ranch. Without the money from Adenike’s bounty, they likely never would.
“We should get going, then,” Hauzini said. Jesse nodded.
Both snapped into action. They mopped up the water, hung the clothes up to dry, grabbed their weapons, and sprinted out to retrieve their horses.
The night swallowed the town behind them quickly. All either could hear was the sounds of the horses running and wind screaming in their ears.
“Wait!” Jesse yelled.
“What if they’re armed?”
“We’re armed! And they’re kidnappers, of course they’re armed!”
They kept riding until Jesse stopped short.
Hauzini’s horse reared, and she yelped. “What is it?”
Jesse was staring out into the distance in the way that meant he’d Seen something. “I found them. It’s just another few hundred yards.”
Hauzini squinted. Sure enough, she could see a fire in the distance. “Fine,” she said. “So why have we stopped?”
Jesse grinned, and they started on the road again.
The thing about Adenike was that she really, really didn’t want to be the king. She’d probably thank her captors for their service. And to think the idiots who’d kidnapped her probably wanted her for ransom.
“To that,” Hauzini said to Jesse, “I say, good luck.”
Jesse snorted. They’d slowed the horses to a walk now, wanting to make as little noise as possible, and thus they could talk. “I just hope she isn’t dead.”
Without even looking at each other, they each acknowledged the other’s fear of losing such a large paycheck.
Adenike’s kidnappers were close now. Jesse knew Hauzini could see every detail of their faces, every spark from the fire. They sped up, not quite at a full gallop, but close.
The noise, as intended, startled Adenike’s captors into action, and they formed a protective circle around the fire. Jesse and Hauzini crossed back and forth in front of them, letting the idiots’ eyes dart between them, unsure of who to look at. Finally, one, probably their leader, stepped forward.
“Who’re you?” the apparent leader asked.
Hauzini jumped off her horse and stepped forward. The leader took a step back. “I,” she said, “am Ha-o-zinne—”
The man winced at the usage of that name. Hauzini’s people were cagey about their names, only using their proper pronunciations in religious ceremonies and on important occasions.
“—and you are committing a crime on my nation’s ancestral land. Therefore, in the name of my people and my ancestors, I command you to hand over your prisoner.”
The man laughed. Oh, he was so stupid. Laughing at Hauzini was the equivalent of digging your own grave. “You want her?” he asked, gesturing at Adenike. Adenike waved awkwardly. “All right. We duel.”
“At night, boss?” someone asked.
“Yeah, at night. I’m not waiting until the morning.”
Hauzini nodded. “One minute to prepare, ten seconds to walk.”
Dan tipped his hat at her.
They turned away from each other. Hauzini handed off her rifle to Jesse. Dan took a gun off of someone nearby.
Everyone cleared off to give them space. In the flickering light of the fire, Jesse saw Hauzini smile, an alligator stalking prey. She caught his eye and they nodded at each other, exchanging an unspoken understanding—if she went down, he’d open fire.
Dan and Hauzini turned to stand back to back. Someone started counting.
Another step. Another. Another. Then—
They turned around in sync. Dan’s hand went to his hip.
A shot rang out.
Dan toppled to the ground, gun still halfway in his holster. Hauzini stared down the barrel of hers, smiling.
“The prisoner,” she said. Adenike’s shocked captors sprang into action, untying her and sputtering apologies.
The town was quiet when they returned, save for the saloon. It was there they went, eager to celebrate rescuing Adenike. They ate a second dinner and even ordered dessert.
“Well,” Jesse said, leaning back in his chair, “that was pretty successful.”
“I’ll say. Didja see their faces? Idiots were terrified.” Hauzini laughed. “I’m amazing.”
“You sure are, partner. Hey, Adenike, you okay?”
Adenike snorted, halfway out the window. “I’m fine.”
“Great! Y’know, I’ve never seen a man go down that quickly—wait.”
Jesse and Hauzini looked at each other, exasperated.
Hauzini sighed. “I’ll go get the horses.”
Jesse nodded, staring in awe out the window.
Wendy Supron, Chair
Caroline Kincaid Godfrey
Pat Kennedy Grant
Diane Naughton Washburne
Linda Hellstrom, Founder
Wendy Supron, Chair